Using Visual Arts to Engage At-Risk Students
Lesson Objective: Engage students in visual art lessons that develop self-identity
Grades 9-12 / Arts / Engagement

Thought starters

  1. How does Ms. Dewar's lesson incorporate learning goals and student interests?
  2. What strategies does Ms. Dewar use to develop a safe classroom environment?
  3. How is this lesson enriched by connecting self-expression to civic responsibility?

      I like the teacher's idea of this activity to help students, who are behind their credits. Definitely, she supported those students to find their interests in school and provide them a learning and cooperating envrironment. However, I wonder why there are only boys in this classroom. How about girls who have the same issues as those boys do?

Recommended (0)
This video offers many great ideas for daily learning goals/targets, questioning, and checks for understanding!
Recommended (0)
Fantastic, I am so impressed. The boys in this video looked very supported and articulated their ideas so well.. I really take my hat off to you Ms.Dewar!
Recommended (0)
This is excellent!
Recommended (0)
I was impressed at the insight students were showing about what they created and with plans to work with other disciplines. Great example of learning goals that are "bigger" than just one skill students have learned. thought provoking.
Recommended (0)


  • Transcript of
    Engaging Boys in the Arts
    Teacher: Jane Dewar

    Last year we talked about opportunities for at risk boys

    Transcript of
    Engaging Boys in the Arts
    Teacher: Jane Dewar

    Last year we talked about opportunities for at risk boys in grade 9 and at risk could mean that they might miss a credit, or they might have attendance issues, and so we said OK let’s create a team to put them together. They often stay together and they go from my class to another class with another teacher and they’re all together so that there is a group where they become acclimatized to each other, there’s a comfort level there, and they are hopefully encouraged to take more risks and obviously to achieve some success.

    Student: I like the class because it’s just …you can relate to a lot of the guys in here. We’re kind of all in the same situation and it’s just fun to hang out and do stuff that you like. Like in classes you do the book work, you do tests and all that. In here you do some of that, but at the same time you’re doing stuff that’s hands-on, creative, and stuff that you enjoy.

    I worked over the summer to go over the grade 10 Visual Arts curriculum to create a variety of activities where the learning goals will be achieved, but that might appeal to this particular clientele.

    Teacher: So yesterday we were out, we created some found (?)artwork and Bo has put it all together into Power Point. We’re going to share that now and talk about the ways that you came up with ideas. We’re looking for a variety of ideas, how they changed from when you first did it to when you finished, and then also where the ideas came from. So let’s take a look at the Power Point.

    Student: The project I was doing was to go and take pictures of all the work that the students in our class did, like to show messages to the world that this really needs to change. The ways we did this was I used my principles of design to get things to stand out.

    Teacher: So the first slide is just some pretty pictures, what’s up with that.

    Student: I wanted to show what the earth is supposed to be like, like flowers and ___.

    Teacher: So that’s what we find out there?

    Student: Yeah

    Teacher: And then some guy started dragging some stones and creating other things, what was going on there?

    Teacher: Where’d you get the idea that it should be a fire?

    Student: It looked like a fire pit.

    Teacher: It’s outside, you’re not making a fire, so how’d you make it look like a fire?

    Student: We put all different colors, like red-orange and stuff all in the inside and then …

    Teacher: What was it in the first place?

    Student: Construction junk

    Teacher: Yeah, absolutely, construction junk, and what did you want people …like you dragged it out to the sidewalk, how come?

    Student: We just kind of link put it out in front of people ….

    Student: So they could see what’s going on.

    Teacher: It’s easy for you to walk by when it’s all hidden in the field.

    Student: He walked past like there’s nothing there

    Teacher: Right. Now who ____ here?

    Student: I was just trying to put it there

    Teacher: Right, absolutely

    I think the overarching theme for the whole course is for the young men to understand that they need to be aware of themselves and then they have to be aware of this community, our classroom community, our school community, and also their responsibilities in the world and where they fit. So we like to talk about social justice issues but we do that in a context that makes it relevant to them.

    Teacher: There are a few of you I know who are doing this, so talk about how this creation started and then you added to it and added more and more to it. So, can you talk about that a little bit?

    Student: Well we found a whole bunch of water bottles, pop cans and metal strips of wire all across the field and we found strong branches and we just started hanging it and weaving the metal through it, just like it was in mid-air, and when people are walking past it I guess it looks like their garbage is waving back at them.

    Teacher: There you go.

    Student: Makes them think twice about littering

    Teacher: Yeah

    Student: Well gorilla art is like trying to be stealthy and going around and making sure people don’t notice what you’re doing and trying to put out there what you’re thinking about and

    Student: ….trying to put messages out to the world. I went to the ___ ___ to come see the high school for the first time and I was trying to explain to them what gorilla art was and I came up with this theory about sand castles and how if I were to make a sandcastle on the beach and I’d leave it there and then some other kid would come and play with it and at the end of day waves would come in and wash it away, and then somebody can come to the beach the next day and make something brand new, and I think that’s gorilla art.

    At the same time we have to understand that they’re a group of young men who are part of a culture that demands instant gratification and they want school to be different, they want it to be fun, they want it to be exciting, they want it to be interesting. Part of me is really delighted that they do, and the other part of me sinks, thinking of my gosh, do they not realize that it’s fun and that they’re learning, and it’s fun and they’re experiencing the parts of the curriculum that we need them to experience. So we have fun and interesting, but we also at the same time have a lot of activities where they’re sitting down and they’re doing and they’re crafting and they are doing a lot of hands-on things and they require patience and all of those kinds of things. If I said to them hey, we’re going to sand and scrape wood, they wouldn’t think that that would be exciting at all. So we can find a balance between those two and I think that’s what happens when I’ve planned and constructed the course. So we can talk about the difference between a doing thing and a learning thing and that was a big light bulb for me this year. If they go home and they’re sitting around the table and someone says hey, what’d you learn at school today, they’ll say I was crocheting. But that’s what they’re doing, not necessarily what they’re learning. So I needed to make sure that they could go home and say hey, I learned that I can work together in a group and do some brainstorming to extend the quality of my ideas, or I learned that I can get some feedback from peers and also from my teacher, and I can go back to an artwork and I can change it, and problem solve that way.

    Teacher: OK guys, so the learning goal for today is you’re going to show how you can use color and pattern in an expressive way when planning your crochet work. So you’re going to be able to talk to me about whether or not they’re complementary colors, and by complementary I don’t mean hey, you look great together; I mean complementary as in red and green are complementary colors, the ones that are opposite each other on the color wheel.

    Success can be measured in all kinds of different ways. It can be the light bulb, it can be when Ryan said it’s like a sandcastle ___ and I think wow of course it’s like a sandcastle, or it can be when they are doing a peer edit or a critique or when they’re writing in their journals. There’s all kinds of things.

    Student: You do pink for the zigzags and over top with the black

    Student: Yeah, I don't know I just got my outline and then ___ colors over the top of it that I need. For this idea it’s kind of like a …you know what balaclava is? It’s just pretty much like a hat that’s really long and then I made some eye holes into so for snowboarding to keep your whole neck warm and everything. I asked Ms. Dewar if we could make hats and stuff and she OK I’ll talk to the school board and ask if we can do it for the curriculum, and now it’s better. Instead of going into a classroom and being here’s our agenda for the day, it’s just like OK here’s what we can do, what do you guys want to do for the day? It’s like all right, we want to make hats this day, we want to make scarves these days. It’s just a whole bunch more fun. You get more of the attitude of yeah, I want to go to school and having that leadership skill kind of, you know what I mean?

    When they start sharing that outside of the classroom that’s when you know that it’s more than just having a great group of people, and where they’re starting to tell you the kinds of interest that they have and I go ___ back to curriculum and I say OK what are the expectations that I can achieve for these young men and can this activity do it.

    This is the handout that I gave to the boys at the beginning of the year and the units are built so that the first unit really encourages them to explore issues about themselves personally, and then they work through some opportunities where they can risk task in a scaffolded way until the point where they know that this is a safe place and a place that they can do some really great creative problem solving and not be judged based on any other criteria that might have happened – because they’re coming here with some baggage.

    Student: I think the most interesting part is you can really connect with your inner self and be creative with everything. Like I’ve never crocheted before but I can be creative with it now.

    I break it down so that there’s a variety of activities and I can pick and choose from those kinds and then there are also journal activities that relate to those things so that there’s always some planning and some modes for reflection.

    Teacher: In our journals today we’re going to write about what you expect the reactions will be, and I want you guys to make some guesses about hey, what do you think people are going to respond to, and how do you think they’ll respond.

    I think a lot of it has to do with careful questioning. I think most of the time they will surprise me with the kinds of things that they can reflect on or the kinds of ways they can express themselves because I don’t let up, I just keep asking questions, and sometimes I expect their response to be written and sometimes it’s verbal and sometimes it’s an individual way and we all know that symbols and the visual literacies can tell you so much.

    Teacher: So you did what, rearranged some stones?

    Student: Yep, I also put a smiley face on a rock because it’s a rock, it needs to be happy.

    Teacher: Rocks are happy?

    Student: Generally no, they just sit there doing nothing

    Teacher: What did you think people would think about when they saw a rock with a happy face on it?

    Student: They would do a double take. It’s not something you see every day.

    Teacher: And they might even smile

    Student : Yep.

    Teacher: So what did you write, what’s your prediction about what might happen to the artwork?

    Student: I think the rocks not going to be there and all the weeds ….not weeds, all the flowers that we put on the ____ will rot and die.

    Teacher: You think they’ll rot and die.

    Student: Yeah, it’s kind of sad when you think about all the flowers that are going to die.

    Teacher: So we’ll have to come back to this a little bit later and see what actually happened, see if your predictions were true.

    One of the things that I think is interesting is talking about art as a culture and a way of communicating and as long as we’re always talking about communicating and the value of art to do that then it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about skateboards or we’re talking about an eliminated medieval manuscript – it’s the same thing.

    Student: Yarn ___ is a form of graffiti where you actually take yarn and you’d either knit it or you’d crochet it and you would make a statement with it.

    Student: Assuming you’re making either a personal statement to the world saying that this needs to change or this is a good thing, let’s make it happen.

    Teacher: So we’re talking about yarn ____ as graffiti. Basically what is it? Jake?

    Student: Well I don't know like sometimes you could plan ______, like make a whole bunch of stuff to go on say the trees or on a bike. ________________

    Student: Yeah, and it makes it stand out so people recognize things that go unrecognized, kind of like us.

    Student: Yeah, we unrecognized but after this class we’re kind of like …we’re recognized now.

    Teacher: You think so? Awesome!

    We have a student success teacher at our school and obviously the need was identified and we decided that it would be really beneficial to the young men to stick together to have a team of teachers that worked on their behalf to achieve their success from period one all the way to period 5, in both semesters. So the student success teacher and our principal got together with a few teachers who volunteered and I actually said that to them on the very first day, I absolutely chose to be your teacher. This is not ….this isn’t a punitive kind of thing, this is a great opportunity for all of us.

    Student: I used those circular things and I sewed the hat. After Me. Dewar showed me a few times over and over again I started to get the hang of it. It takes a little longer than me [sic] than other people but I get it done. I felt very proud. I think it’s very fun, it’s very different. In most classes you sit there and do study work. This time you get to move around, use your hands, do a lot more stuff.

    In our next unit that we’re doing on aesthetic surgery we’re going to work on something that they’re actually going to continue on with their English teacher. So they’re going to be doing things in our class that will also be satisfying some of the expectations in English as well, and that’s I think …The more we work that way, especially in secondary, the better it is for kids.

    Teacher: Does someone want to talk about how you felt when I first sent you out?

    Student: It’s like we didn’t have to just sit in class and do our work in class, we had to go outside, try different things.

    Teacher: So Jordan was cool about going outside. Anybody not so cool about going outside?

    Student: You just said we were going to end up going outside and kind of plan ____, it didn’t really seem fun at the time. As soon as got outside and we were just hanging out then I don't know we just ended up doing stuff and it ended up being lots of fun.

    When I look at the curriculum and I was fortunate enough to be someone included in the writing team for this curriculum we’re really excited about it because we think that it offers so many opportunities for our partners, our colleagues. One of the things that it allows you to do is it sets clear expectations about what we’re looking for in terms of learning goals and it allows the freedom to be able to create and fine tune to your clientele the kinds of activities or the kinds of unit planning that you’d like to do with them. In the last little bit I’ve heard a lot of teachers who were saying you know what, I feel like I have to lower the bar, I feel like I have to lower the bar to make sure that we get everybody, and I am that great cheerleader for keep the bar high and make sure if there’s a kid who needs a little bit of a hike over it, then help them with the hike to get over it. I really think that the most important thing that I can do is empower my colleagues to say you know what, I know what the kids at my school need, I don’t necessarily have to make sure that they’re doing a Frida Kahlo inspired self-portrait. Maybe my students need me to be doing this kind of activity to satisfy these expectations. So if my message only really becomes get in touch with your kids and make it so that you can fine tune whatever it is that you’re doing to help achieve their success, but we can’t keep lowering a bar. You’ve got to just make sure that you do whatever it takes to get everybody over that real high one.

    ? end of transcript


Teaching Practice

Project-based Learning, PBL, Projects, Engagement

Teaching Practice

All Grades/ All Subjects/ Culture

Teaching Practice

All Grades / All Subjects / Culture

TCH Special

Grades 6-12, All Subjects, Civic Engagement